Luther Lions Club: Treating neighbors like family, during the pandemic and beyond

Photo of sign reading: "Luther: On the Little Manistee"

A few days after Anna volunteered at her first Mobile Food Pantry, hosted by the Luther Lions Club, she found herself appointed the club’s president.

Anna was surprised, but only a little – warm welcomes aren’t unusual in Luther, where neighbors treat each other like family. Luther residents instantly welcomed Anna’s family after their move to the small town years ago. Likewise, when a home burns down or when someone dies, neighbors all pitch in to help. Even neighbors who don’t have much themselves bring a dish to pass to a funeral banquet.

“If there’s a need people are always helping each other out. It’s just the way it is,” Anna said.

Photo of sign reading: "Luther: On the Little Manistee"

One way the Lions Club serves its community is by partnering with the food bank to host monthly Mobile Food Pantries. These distributions provide fresh produce and other food to neighbors facing hunger throughout Lake County. Many are made possible by the Lake County Community Foundation, as well as a local sponsor, who provided additional Mobile Pantries during the pandemic.

For safety reasons, the Mobile Pantries look a little different than usual, but that hasn’t stopped the club’s members from continuing to create a friendly atmosphere for neighbors. Anna and Judy – the club’s Mobile Pantry coordinator – love the efficiency of the new drive-thru model, but acknowledge that for many seniors, time sitting and chatting while waiting for the distribution to begin was one of the only times they socialized during the week.

“We’re still interacting with them when we go up to the window and talk to them,” Anna said. “It’s probably the only time that some of these people get out, especially in the winter.”

Not only has the Lions Club been providing extra Mobile Pantries to the community, they’ve been serving more households than ever. Typically, around 100 families attend the distributions. That number has increased to upwards of 150 during the pandemic.

“A lot of them you really can tell that they are struggling,” Anna said.

Luther as a town has had to make changes during COVID-19 as well. An annual event during which the town’s main street is sectioned off and neighbors gather together for dancing, community and food – Luther Days – had to be canceled, disappointing many.

Judy, Janette and Anna hold up a box of food

Janette, a neighbor who receives food from the Mobile Pantries, usually runs a free softball tournament for kids during Luther Days. Typically, kids have to pay to play these days, so Janette misses being able to provide a free option.

A lifelong resident of Luther, Janette has a spinal disease which makes movement difficult, but would otherwise love to volunteer at the Mobile Pantries. She still finds ways to serve her community, though. Beyond helping kids learn softball, her generosity spreads to helping neighbors have enough food to eat. If she receives food she cannot use, she brings it to someone who can.

In addition to receiving support from the Lake County Community Foundation, to help bring the Mobile Pantries to Luther, the Lions Club raises funds through a monthly breakfast and lunch. These past few months of missed fundraising meals has meant the Lions Club’s budget is strained.

Town of Luther

“We’re hoping that we can somehow get these trucks and start next month with our breakfast,” Anna said.

Feeding America West Michigan relies on support from the community and from organizations like the Lake County Community Foundation to bring Mobile Pantries to places like Luther. Without their help, this program would not be possible. Thankfully, just as the Lions Club and its generous members have remained devoted to its community during the pandemic, they will continue to be there in times of need for years to come.

Story written by Communication Assistant Juliana Ludema.